For the record, Donald Trump meant what he said and what he left unsaid in his snide, dangerous “Second Amendment people” comment Tuesday:
Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick… (crowd booing) If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know [Donald Trump, speech as transcribed by Time, Wilmington, NC, 2016.08.09].
To deflect charges that Trump was implying that Second Amendment supporters could save the country from liberal judges by shooting Hillary Clinton, supporters scrambled for Trump’s Hannity-enabled assertion that “there can be no other interpretation” besides his post-speech assertion that he was talking about NRA voting power rather than firepower.
Trump’s ellipsis left plenty of room for interpretations. If there were no other possible interpretation, the Secret Service wouldn’t have spoken to the Trump campaign about the comment.
In this case, the Clinton interpretation is actually simpler and more faithful to the text than the Trump/NRA interpretation. Review the six words Trump used to describe the action he had in mind:
Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know….
He didn’t actually say the action. If he’s thinking of getting out the vote, not saying that action is silly. Why would he not call voters to the action of voting? Why would he hold back and only hint as faintly as possible at the noble action he had in mind, the most important and moral action that everyone in the room can take to prevent the bad outcome he just described? A mere moment’s review of the speech before taking the stage would have suggested a far less shruggy call to action: “…nothing you can do—but you Second Amendment people can do something this year by getting out to vote and making sure Hillary Clinton never picks a judge!”
Instead of making that clear call to action, Trump refers obliquely to the action he has in mind. Why else would he not mention that action explicitly other than that he was thinking of a shameful, violent action? An unsaid recommendation is more likely a suggestion to do a bad thing for which the speaker doesn’t want to be held responsible than a good action that the speaker could easily use to rouse his crowd and sound like a leader.
Moving beyond this brief passage and reading Trump’s words in context reveals (a) a terrible, disjointed, stream-of-consciousness jumble of undigested conservative talking points punctuated with Trump’s characteristic “Believe Me” belches and (b) nothing that supports his post-speech blank-filling. Trump’s only mentions of the National Rifle Association in his Wilmington speech were to mention the NRA’s endorsement of his candidacy, his and his son’s membership in the NRA, and this nonsense passage:
If you – we can add I think the National Rifle Association, we can add the Second Amendment to the Justices – they almost go – in a certain way, hand in hand. Now the Justices are going to do things that are so important and we have such great Justices, you saw my list of 11 that have been vetted and respected [Trump, 2016.08.09].
When Trump spoke of the Second Amendment and guns elsewhere in his speech, he said more use of firearms could stop atrocities being plotted and committed by some unnamed “them”:
Our military cannot be beaten. But you know what could happen? When we don’t know where they are, where they’re coming, you’ve them all over the place.
And folks, it’s some. You don’t need many; you don’t need many. One person in Orlando. Two people — look at in France, 130. Now, they have the strictest gun laws anywhere in the world, France, Paris. One hundred and thirty people killed, 130.
And I’ve said 100 times, if this man or if this woman, or if that woman or man had a gun in Paris or in San Bernardino and the bullets were flying in the other direction, would have been a whole different story, folks.
Would have been a whole different.
For those — for those foolish people that say Second Amendment, would have been a whole different — and I’d go a step further. If these people, bad people, bad, sick, sick, sick people.
If these people knew there were guns in the good guys hands, right, they probably wouldn’t have gone in in the first place, all right? All right? Gun free — what do you think of these gun- free zones?
Do you know what a gun-free zone is? That’s like — they study where the gun-free zones — if they would have known you had guns, if they would have known that they were going to be shot at from the other side, it would have been a whole different story. Maybe it wouldn’t have even happened in the first place.
So they better not come here. They better not. They better not [Trump, 2016.08.09].
That passage urging violent action with guns preceded the ominous “Second Amendment people” comment. A minute later, Trump made a comment about “bad guys burst[ing] into your house,” adding to the violent imagery of the speech. Trump’s references to the Second Amendment had no discernible relation to getting out the vote and everything to do with shooting guns. Viewed in context of the speech in its entirety, Trump’s comment looks even more like a call to violence.
In other news, an online poll posted by the Vermillion Plain Talk finds 49.8% of its Web readers voting choosing Hillary Clinton and 38.1% choosing Donald Trump. That’s nearly four out of ten readers still willing to make excuses for a Republican nominee whose violence-inciting comments are irresponsible and unacceptable in civil political discourse.